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UN rights experts urge Texas not to execute mentally ill man

[JURIST] UN human rights experts on arbitrary executions and torture on Tuesday urged [press release] the state of Texas and the US government to prevent the execution of Scott Panetti, who was sentenced to death for killing his parents-in-law in 1992. The experts contend that Panetti, who is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, has a history of mental illness and that it would be a violation of international law to execute him. Panetti specifically suffers from undifferentiated schizophrenia, depression, brain dysfunction, delusions, arbitrary hallucinations and homicidal ideation towards his family. UN officials explained that the execution would be considered arbitrary and "inherently cruel" under international standards. In his 1995 trial, Panetti chose to waive his right to counsel and represent himself. UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, Christof Heynes [official website], expressed his belief that Panetti's choice to waive his counsel at trial "may have influenced the subsequent decisions of the courts."

The death penalty [JURIST backgrounder] has been a highly controversial issue worldwide. In October UN officials called for international abolition [JURIST report] of the death penalty. In May the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] urged the US to impose a moratorium [JURIST report] on the death penalty after a botched execution [JURIST report] performed in Oklahoma the previous week. In May the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a Florida law permitting the death penalty for criminal defendants whose IQ is greater than 70 violates the Eighth Amendment [text] of the US Constitution.

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